Despite interest from the Maple Leafs and Bruins, Justin Williams returns to Carolina

On Tuesday afternoon, Pierre LeBrun reported that both the Toronto Maple Leafs and Boston Bruins made a pitch to free-agent forward Justin Williams while his former club, the Carolina Hurricanes, tried to figure out a contract for the veteran.

Despite the interest from Toronto and Boston, Williams in unsurprisingly headed back to Carolina. Williams spent his last two seasons with the Hurricanes and captained the team in 2018-19 to a breakout season. After getting eliminated in the Eastern Conference Finals last year, Williams chose to take the first part of the 2019-20 season off to determine his future. It always seemed he would go back to Carolina, but it wasn’t automatic given their salary cap situation.

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Williams became known as Mr. Game 7 throughout his career as a result of his clutch play in series-clinching playoff games. He’s tied with Glenn Anderson for the NHL’s all-time record for goals in Game 7s and he has the outright record with 15 points in Game 7s. He scored goals in Carolina’s Game 7 wins over Buffalo and Edmonton en route to winning the Stanley Cup in 2006 and also won the Conn Smythe Trophy with the Los Angeles Kings in 2012. All told, Williams has a whopping 101 points in 155 playoff games in his storied career.

Given the fact the Leafs have had a, well, difficult time with Game 7s as of late, Williams made sense as a veteran addition to the club. But, of course, that won’t be happening, as Williams inked a one-year deal worth $700k with up to $1.3 million in performance bonuses.

As I said earlier, it was hard to imagine Williams ending up anywhere other than Carolina at this stage. It’s always seemed as though that’s the place he wanted to end his career. Even if he wanted to return home for one final run in the NHL, it’s difficult to say how the cap-strapped Leafs would have made it happen financially. They wouldn’t have had the flexibility to offer Williams the same amount of performance bonuses that Carolina did so he would have had to have been all-in on a league-minimum contract like Jason Spezza was.